Pop Culture and the Pastime: Leo Durocher Meets The Munsters

Left to right: Pat Priest, Yvonne DeCarlo, Leo Duorcher, Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis.

Left to right: Pat Priest, Yvonne DeCarlo, Leo Duorcher, Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis.

The start of a new year always brings with it a set of traditions. For me, that list begins with watching The Twilight Zone marathon on the SyFy Channel. Just a few years ago, that marathon inspired me to write about the 1965 episode, The Mighty Casey, in which series creator Rod Serling explored baseball’s connection to the worlds of science fiction and the supernatural.

In considering other 1960s television shows and their associations with our National Pastime, I inevitably think about The Munsters. For those who don’t remember the show’s original run (1964-66), or haven’t seen it in reruns, The Munsters was a situation comedy that lasted only two seasons on CBS but has become a cult classic through syndication. (The show can still be seen on Netflix.)

The Munsters centered on a bizarre but friendly family that featured a Frankenstein lookalike (Herman Munster), a vampire (Grandpa Munster), the vampire’s daughter (Lily Munster) and a half-boy, half-wolf (Eddie Munster). Adding to the confusion, the Munsters’ normal-looking niece, a blonde beauty named Marilyn, also lived with the family. As part of the strange twist, the rest of the family considered Marilyn the odd and ugly one.

On April 8, 1965, just in time for a new season of major league baseball, The Munsters aired one of its most famed episodes, titled Herman The Rookie. It featured a guest appearance by Hall of Famer Leo Durocher, who was a coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the time of filming. Clad in street clothes, Durocher is seen supervising a tryout by Herman Munster, the patriarch of the Munster clan, who is attempting to showcase his prodigious hitting abilities at a local ballpark.

Played by the late actor Fred Gwynne, Herman first drew the attention of Durocher by hitting him on the head with a batted ball—from eight blocks away! Durocher asks who could hit a ball that far and soon discovers that Herman is the responsible party. So “Leo the Lip” invites Mr. Munster to the tryout.

The rest of the Munster family gives Herman little support in his newfound dream of playing in the major leagues. Lily shows little regard for the possibility, while delivering one of the episode’s great punch lines. “I think this whole thing is ridiculous!” exclaims Lily. “Imagine, Herman, a grown man 150 years old, playing baseball with young men of 55 and 60.” Meanwhile, Grandpa teases Herman about his ballplaying ability. “The big ham thinks he can play baseball!” Grandpa exclaims with his usual level of sarcasm.

Durocher and Gwynne

Durocher and Gwynne

Undeterred by his family’s lack of encouragement, Herman attends the tryout organized by Durocher and engages in a bit of batting practice against an unnamed pitcher. Bulging with muscles and looking like an overgrown version of Jack LaLanne, albeit one with facial scars, Herman hits one pitch out of the ballpark, another pitch into the scoreboard (part of which falls off), one ball that burrows into the dirt along the third base line, and still another that burns through the glove of the third baseman. Along the way, Herman manages to inflict some minor damage on the ballpark and knock down the first baseman while running the bases. Durocher, observing from the sidelines, comments in disbelief, “I don’t know whether to sign him to the Dodgers or send him to Vietnam.”

This degree of collateral damage ultimately leads to Durocher having to reject Herman. Leo explains that none of the other players will take the field with Herman, out of fear for their physical safety. And just like that, Herman Munster’s career in baseball comes to an end.

Theresult is one of the more amusing episodes in the brief history of The Munsters, with a special emphasis on the physical slapstick comedy created by Herman’s superhuman strength. This theme was typical of the show, which often portrayed Herman as a gentlemanly giant who simply could not control his enormous strength and accidentally destroyed all that surrounded him.

The outgoing Durocher loved Hollywood and the glamor that came with it. He knew many actors, directors and producers. His closest friends included Danny Kaye and Frank Sinatra. Furthermore, he had once been married to actress Laraine Day before divorcing in 1960.

Durocher’s appearance on The Munsters turned out to be the latest in a series of guest appearances on 1960s television sitcoms. He had previously appeared on The Beverly Hillbillies and Mister Ed (both in 1963) and The Donna Reed Show (in 1964). In each case, he played himself, a comfortable role for the outgoing Durocher. Clearly, Leo loved appearing on camera—and that comes across in the episode of The Munsters, which not only features him at the ballpark but also shows him visiting the Munsters’ cobweb-filled mansion at 1313 Mockingbird Lane.

This episode is also notable for the curious depiction of Durocher, who is not wearing the Dodgers uniform during the workout, but is instead sporting a suit jacket and button-down shirt. Durocher comes across as one of the Dodgers’ authority figures, even though at the time of filming he was merely a coach working under Walter Alston. (A quiet sort, Alston never had aspirations of working in Hollywood, so it’s likely that he was never even considered for the appearance on The Munsters.)

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The script for The Munsters episode never directly refers to Durocher as the Dodgers’ manager, or as the team’s general manager, but it certainly implies he is the man in power here, the one ultimately responsible for selecting and signing players. It’s worth noting that during his tenure as a Dodgers coach, Durocher frequently criticized Alston, whom he considered indecisive as a leader. At times, the two men exchanged tense words. Additionally, it was no secret that Durocher had aspirations of managing again in the major leagues. In fact, just one year after The Munsters episode aired, Durocher would become the manager of the Chicago Cubs, who had settled on him after their failed dalliance with a “College of Coaches.”

There are other curiosities at work here, particularly regarding the timing of the episode and Durocher’s relationship with the Dodgers. While Durocher was still working for the Dodgers at the time of filming, he actually left the organization after the 1964 season, ostensibly to manage the St. Louis Cardinals. But that job opportunity fell through, as the Cardinals reversed course and decided to retain Johnny Keane as their skipper, leaving Durocher to settle for a job as a color commentator on ABC-TV’s Game of the Week. So by the time the episode actually aired in the spring of 1965, Durocher was no longer employed by the Dodgers’ franchise—or any other team.

Another baseball figure made an appearance in “Herman The Rookie.” The “fearful catcher,” as he is listed in the credits, was played by Ken Hunt, an outfielder with the Washington Senators and formerly a member of the Los Angeles Angels. When Herman Munster prepares to throw home, Hunt jumps up, frightened by the damage that Herman is inflicting with his Herculean throws, and exclaims, “No, no, no. Hold it. I quit, Leo. I’m going back to the minors.”

In reality, Hunt did return to the minor leagues, or at least he did eventually. He chose not to play in 1965, instead returning to Los Angeles, where he became a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Hunt would make a baseball comeback in 1966, signing with the Pacific Coast League’s Tacoma Cubs, the top affiliate of Chicago. But he hit only .235 with eight home runs and called it quits at the end of the season.

Hunt’s presence on The Munsters is easily explainable. In addition to his interest in acting, he happened to be the stepfather of Butch Patrick, the child actor who played Eddie Munster and who was all of 10 years old at the time. It’s likely that Hunt had to be on the set of The Munsters anyway; according to child labor laws, at least one parent needed to be present on the set during the filming of a television show.

Still another cast member of The Munsters had a connection to baseball. Al Lewis, who played Grandpa Munster with wonderful sarcasm, had once worked as a hot dog vendor at Ebbets Field, home to the Dodgers during their years in Brooklyn. A diehard sports fan who loved baseball and basketball, Lewis spent part of his career working as a basketball scout.

Also present on the set of The Munsters was former NFL star Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, who was the general manager of the Los Angeles Rams at the time. Only two years later, Hirsch would earn election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Hirsch, Hunt and Durocher, along with the regular cast members, collaborate to make Herman The Rookie one of the most memorable episodes in the history of The Munsters. It’s further evidence of how baseball and popular culture came together so frequently during the 1960s, on shows that ranged from the dire seriousness of The Twilight Zone to the feel-good happiness of Donna Reed.

In this case, our popular culture gave Leo the Lip the chance to meet a friendly monster named Herman, and gave us a chance to laugh at the ensuing hilarity.

References & Resources


Bruce Markusen has authored seven baseball books, including biographies of Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Ted Williams, and A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, which was awarded SABR's Seymour Medal.
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Dennis Bedard
Guest
Dennis Bedard

Unlike Mr. Ed, The Brady Bunch, and The Beverly Hillbillies, there is no use of the “Dodgers” name. One would think that the Dodgers would want their name displayed as it was free advertising and a great way to garner fan support among younger people. The producers of the Munsters probably wanted it this way as it would have revealed something that they wanted to disguise: the actual location of Mockingbird Lane.

Adam C
Guest
Adam C

This was a time when TV was non-PC. When asked to desribed Herman Munster, before Herman appeared at the ballpark, Durocher described Herman as “a wetback from a petrified forest”. Can you imagine someone saying that on a TV sitcom today?! LOL.

Marc Schneider
Guest
Marc Schneider

Actually, TV back in the day was far more “PC” than it is now. There were many, many thing that you could not even mention. Married couples were shown sleeping in twin beds and you couldn’t use the word pregnant. Apparently, it was feared that children would become juvenile delinquents it was even hinted that adults could sleep together and make babies. I suspect that “wetback” was not considered as offensive as it is today because TV was pretty careful back then about not offending anyone.

Marc Schneider
Guest
Marc Schneider

Maybe that’s because wetback is a derogatory and offensive term.

Todd McKinney
Guest
Todd McKinney

Very true but still loved the article I miss the “good ol days” when everything didn’t have to be branded………

Dave M
Guest
Dave M

Great stuff, Bruce!

Herman at the Bat:

https://youtu.be/OKBpn13P5oQ

Bobr
Guest
Bobr
I am pretty sure that Durocher appeared as a mystery guest on an episode of “What’s My Line” years before when it was broadcast from Hollywood for a week or so. On the panel was his then wife Laraine Day. I do not remember if she figured out who he was or not. In his memoir, Bill Werber, who was briefly a teammate on the Yankees in 1930, describes Leo as a petty thief and sleazy teammate who often tried to seduce fellow teammate’s wives. He claims that Babe Ruth caught him once stealing something from his locker and almost… Read more »
Phil Ellenebecker
Guest
Phil Ellenebecker

Note that Leo was also a talent scout when he appeared on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” first trying to sign Jethro and then Ellie Mae as pitchers when he found out Jethro couldn’t throw straight without possum grease. And both Jethro and Ellie Mae displayed the kind of freakish abilities Herman did, knocking Leo back into the cement pond after he catches their pitches while he’s trying them out. I could go into other wacky details, but you get the picture. As in “The Munsters” episode, Durocher comes across as a Dodgers authority figure.

Christian B
Guest
Christian B

So cheesy and yet so great.

Christian B
Guest
Christian B

This was my life as a kid in the 80’s: play baseball outside until it got too hot, then watch some re-runs of The Munsters, The Addams Family, Leave it to Beaver, and then turn on the Cubs for their afternoon game on WGN, and watch the Braves after that on TBS. I will always associate those great old shows with baseball since they were always on while I was waiting for the game to come on. And sometimes you get the baseball themed ones. My favorite is when Don Drysdale was on Mr. Ed.

Wayne Jones
Guest
Wayne Jones

One correction: the Cardinals didn’t retain Johnny Keane after the 1964 season. The Yankees fired icon Yogi Berra and hired Keane, and God punished them by letting them wander in the desert for 11 years. The Cards replaced Keane not with Durocher, but with Red Schoendienst. Wasn’t that clearly a diverse choice?

Fake Yeezys For Kids
Guest

The Nintendo Entertainment System is reasonable for giving us many true classics like Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. For his latest Air Jordan 4 Custom, he uses both games graphics on the toughness complete with official NES controller buttons and D-pad on the back heel.